Home & Design September 10, 2008

Characteristic Lines
Uncharacteristic Results

mountain contemporary in greenhorn

Architect: Jeffrey Charles Williams, A.I.A.-Williams Partners Architects P.C.
Builder: Jerry Hayward
Interior Design: Rob McGowan
Landscape Architect: Rob King-Clemens Associates, Inc.
Landscape Installation: All Seasons

Hidden off of Highway 75 and Golden Eagle Road, up a winding driveway near Greenhorn Gulch, the McGowan-O’Malley home is a harmonious fusion of rough with sleek, dark with light, natural with manmade.

Homeowner Rob McGowan calls the style “mountain contemporary.”

Differently textured building materials have been paired to play off of each other. Sandblasted grey concrete columns stand amid rich brown wood beams; clear, soaring windows overlook rusted corrugated steel roofing; warm cedar shingles abut rough-hewn concrete walls.

It’s a fresh twist on materials, and there’s no denying that the variety of textures, soft muted colors and bold and weathered materials create a richly layered look and add visual excitement to this one-year-old home.

“We wanted a contemporary design but not necessarily too modern. We wanted it to feel young, a little more on the hip side,” Rob says with a laugh.

McGowan and his wife Katherine O’Malley live here with their 3-year-old daughter Chloe, newborn son Peter, and their dog Friday, a Cavalier King Charles. The family moved to the Valley from Los Angeles in 2006. “We wanted to raise our kids here,” says McGowan, who spent his childhood here.

In spite of its picture-perfect design, this beautiful lakeside house is not just for show. Inside the sprawling cement, wood and glass structure is a home that is well used and loved by this young family. It clearly is not treated like a museum.

Rob McGowan and Katherine O’Malley moved here from Los Angeles to raise their growing family. Chloe, 3, and dog Friday recently welcomed baby Peter.

Evident throughout the house are traces of family gatherings and real living. Peek into O’Malley’s office and you might see a scattering of toys on the floor. In the media room, a blanket is tossed casually across the back of a sofa. Friday, the dog, has the run of the place.

To the observer, the absolute lived-in humanness of this showcase home is yet another delightful contrast.

McGowan and O’Malley worked with Ketchum architect Jeffrey Williams to design and build the home, a process that took about two years. Williams said the job went very smoothly, thanks in great part to the owners knowing what they wanted.

“They seemed very educated about what they were after,” says Williams. “They brought in a lot of photos from architects whose work I knew and really liked. Rob told me that at one point he put it all in Katherine’s hands because he wanted to make sure she could work comfortably with whoever they picked to build it.”

McGowan says that Williams was “fantastic” to work with and that the team had “good symmetry.”

While this isn’t the first contemporary-styled home that Williams has built in the Wood River Valley, he says others featured more rustic elements that are more typical of the area.

“In the past, whenever we suggested doing something contemporary, people would be horrified, like ‘that look doesn’t work in the mountains.’ I think what they envisioned was white boxes, and contemporary doesn’t mean that at all,” he notes.

Far from a white box, the McGowan-O’Malley home is designed in a long, flowing U-shape and features floor-to-ceiling windows throughout. In fact, one of the first things you notice is that you can look right through the house from front to back.

“The idea was to build the house so you can see through it to both the lake side and the canyon side,” says McGowan, referring to the close-by hills of Greenhorn Gulch and the lake that sits in his backyard.

At the front of the home, the couple planted natural grasses that are delicately soft against the home’s strong lines. “We wanted to be friendly to the area,” McGowan says of the plantings. “Kind of like the house just landed there and we’re letting the grass grow up around it.”

Several terraces of varying sizes and shapes surround the house, each coming off a different area of the house and each offering its own unique atmosphere, sunlight and view. A primary terrace situated off the pool area features a large courtyard fireplace, which serves as the symbolic center of the home and the focal point of the angled-wing design. The stone that Williams has used on the terraces originates in Montana and was chosen for its earthy color tones and its pleasant, coarse texture. >>>


Four stone steps take you up to a covered entryway where two sandblasted concrete columns stand on either side of the glass-paneled front doors. Standing on the front landing, you are surrounded by a symphony of textures; glass, cement, wood, metal, and stone are all in this one space.

Cedar shingles share exterior wall space with board-formed concrete, a lumber-like material that is created by pouring concrete into a form lined with cedar boards, which gives the concrete a rough, sawn-wood texture.

Williams notes that the use of board-formed concrete has somewhat of a local history in the Wood River Valley, as the Sun Valley Lodge is also constructed of the material, which has been stained brown to resemble wood.“Many people think the Sun Valley Lodge is wood, but it’s really concrete,” Williams says. “They did it that way because when they built it in the late ’30s there was no fire department in the area.”

Unlike the Lodge, the McGowan house was left a natural concrete grey.

McGowan says the use of board-formed concrete was very deliberate. “We wanted a wood texture on the house but we didn’t want to have wood sitting in the snow because it becomes a maintenance issue.”

Inside the sprawling cement, wood and glass structure is a home that is well used and loved by this young family. It clearly is not treated like a museum.

Inside the front entryway, board-formed concrete appears again, creating an arrival point that feels private and somewhat removed from the rest of the house. Straight ahead is an open-stepped stairway made of rich red mahogany and fir.

“We tried to use a combination of materials and let each material be expressive of its own natural qualities,” Williams says of the home’s contrasting textures.

On the second floor you are led into the natural flow of the house by way of a bridge-like hallway that traverses the length of the home and opens up to overlook the living area below. But this is more than just passageway from one point to another. Tucked along one side of the hallway, Williams has built a cubby office for McGowan that takes full advantage of the wall-to-wall vistas surrounding the home. The main laundry area is also built off the hallway, hidden behind sliding wood doors. Its location on the second floor, near dressing and undressing areas, makes sense. A second washer and dryer is downstairs near the mudroom.

On one far end of the U-shaped home, above the three-car garage, the guest quarters features a large living room and bedroom, a spacious walk-in closet and a substantial full bathroom.

When designing this suite, the owners took into consideration the privacy and comfort of their guests, making sure to give the suite a view of Greenhorn Gulch and its own separate entrance and a personal outside deck.

Up the hallway are the childrens’ bedrooms, each with a full bathroom and large closet. Walking into Chloe’s room, McGowan points out the panoramic views from her window.

“Her room faces north, so she has the ski report view,” he laughs. “She knows when the storms are coming or going. I love that view—not bad for a kid.”

All the bedrooms share a view of the hills to the north and a shimmering lake below. The size of the property is four acres, but with vast, green common areas and several lakes surrounding the home, it feels like limitless spaciousness.

“We wanted a contemporary design but not necessarily too modern…We wanted it to feel young, a little more on the hip side.”

Looking out his bedroom window, McGowan points to a wee blonde figure walking hand in hand with a bigger person out on the green. “That’s Chloe down there, and she’s going fishing,” he says of his daughter, who is heading for the lake with her mom. When asked what she might catch in the lake, he laughs and says, “Not a damn thing, but she has a blast.” >>>


A beautifully-crafted Italian bed sits in the middle of the master bedroom allowing the couple to enjoy the full benefit of both the magnificent views and the coziness of a large fireplace. One wall of the bedroom is paneled in rich fir wood slats, lending a soft warmth to this minimally-furnished room. Dark wood beams overhead abut with the grey board-formed concrete planks surrounding the fireplace.

Two separate bathrooms with large closets and dressing areas give both McGowan and O’Malley abundant private space, although McGowan smiles and says, “The small one is obviously mine.”

In the spacious bathrooms, oak floors and wood ceilings create almost a spa-like environment. Add in a large, luxurious soaker tub that sits directly under a picture window looking out over the Gulch, and you have an oasis of relaxation.

A sleek cabinet installed in his dressing room shines under 10 coats of high-gloss polyester and is topped with a rich limestone counter. This beautiful piece of workmanship was made by Poliform, a northern Italian home décor manufacturing company. In fact, virtually everything in the house—furniture, cabinetry, bathrooms, closets, kitchen, doors and more—was manufactured by Poliform, for whom McGowan is a dealer.

Downstairs is where some serious living takes place. The enormous great room flows into a dining area, which flows into the state-of-the-art kitchen. “We wanted one big room where everyone kind of hangs out,” says McGowan.

Floor-to-roof windows drench the room in sunlight and bring out the richness of the oak floors and wood ceiling beams. A comfortable bar sits to one side of the room, framed by windows that look out on the lake.

“We tried to use a combination of materials and let each material be expressive of its own natural qualities,” the architect says.

The focal point of the great room is a large stone fireplace built directly into the wall of glass. Here again, Williams has blended various textures. Black granite surrounds the fireplace opening, and the mantelpiece is of the same rough Frontier Stone used to pave the terraces around the house. Finally, the rock that forms the main fireplace was chosen for its grey and brown tones that match the exterior concrete and cedar shingles. This is one of four fireplaces in the home.

Architect Jeffrey Williams says creating the home was easy despite its scale because the clients were well versed in what they wanted.


“This is my favorite part of the house—the corner in the living room with all the glass,” says Williams. “There are a lot of great parts to the house but, ultimately, I think what makes the house so neat is there are so many great views out to the lake, the backyard and the house itself.”

Sharing the space is a contemporary kitchen that is so incredibly elegant that it doesn’t look like a kitchen. The clean black and stainless cabinetry is simple and unobtrusive and seems to be an extension of the great room, not a separate area. And when it comes to the joy of cooking, this kitchen is outfitted with top-of-the-line appliances including a below-counter oven by Gaggenau, a Miele dishwasher and a Sub-Zero refrigerator.

Just around the corner is another of McGowan’s favorite spots in the house, the media room. With its big-screen TV, fireplace and electronically-operated blackout blinds on the windows and doors, you could get lost in movies or wall-to-wall sports for days.

And while the rest of the home is done in neutral colors—“I think it’s really important in a house for your objects to have more color than the thing they’re sitting on,” says McGowan—the media room is one place where McGowan has tapped into the brighter spectrum of the color palette.

“This is our (Poliform) cabinetry and I thought there’s one room that has to have some pop,” McGowan says about the shiny, orange-lacquered cabinets leaping out from the front of the room. The surface of the cabinets creates a vivid focal point and reflects back the light and views from the window, almost like a mirror.

At the northern wing of the house is a unique, 50-foot indoor saline lap pool that is kept heated to a cozy 92 degrees. Concrete columns surround the pool on one side, while on the other a full wall of windows looks out onto the courtyard.

The pool features two levels of security to protect against accidents. First, there is a code to open the main door. Next, another security code retracts the Aquapro cover over the water. The cover attaches to tracks on four sides of the pool and can support the weight of a 150-pound adult.

“You can never have enough protection,” says McGowan, who points out that both controls are high enough on the wall to be out of reach of curious children.

While McGowan is an “avid tennis player and an aspiring golfer,” and has skied since he was three years old, he notes that the pool is where O’Malley spends time. “She does about 100 laps a day,” he says of his wife.

“We have a stairway that goes directly from our bedroom down to the pool, and it’s carpeted, too, so my wife’s tootsies don’t get cold,” he says with a smile.

The pool area roof was designed with an upward tip to allow the southern sun into the room. It also is tipped downward on the north side to keep its profile low for the neighboring property. To further soften the aesthetics of the pool structure, an earthen berm along the north wall sits at about six and a half feet above the pool deck level, leaving only about a foot and a half of wall exposed to the neighbors.

Other rooms in the home include a mudroom and a below-ground wine cellar, both located off the front entryway. The entire house, including garage, mechanical spaces and other non-living areas, is a sprawling 9,700 square feet.

The home is heated by high-efficiency gas boilers and in-floor pipes set in an inch-and-a-half-thick concrete slab poured over the plywood sub-floor. High, electronically-operated clerestory windows cool the house by allowing flow-through ventilation during summer weather. Williams said air conditioning was an afterthought.

“It wasn’t part of the original plan, but was a last minute addition made due to the summer heat during construction.

“This was just one of those jobs where everything went well, largely because the client was so interested in the project,” he says. “You always have problems in a job, but when you have a client with a really positive attitude, problems are not a major issue.”

McGowan agrees and says his family is enjoying getting to know the home’s personality, glitches and all.

“We’re learning how to use the house,” says McGowan. “For example, we’ve learned to use different terraces during different times of day, or in different seasons,” he says, noting that they enjoy them all but each has its own unique personality.

Like the rest of the variations in the house, that’s just another one of those delightful contrasts that gives this home its distinct and many-layered character.


Click here for more photographs of the McGowan Home


Patti Murphy is a Boise-based writer who has family in Ketchum. She enjoys writing for Sun Valley Magazine because it allows her to explore some very beautiful and remarkable homes, talk with interesting people and visit her family at the same time. Murphy is personally attempting to streamline her own home décor, so this article has inspired her to simplify, simplify.

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.